The Visual Pleasures of the Flesh

By Tea Krulos

Atomic Tattoo opened on Valentine’s Day, and owner Sam Bielinski wants to dispel some rumors.

“We’re not part of a large corporation, and our guys don’t get paid salary,” he explained. “We’re an artist run shop, which is rare.”

Bielinski lived in Milwaukee until 2000, when he moved to Tampa, Florida. It was there that he helped open and manage a series of tattoo shops. He decided to move back last year, but wanted to maintain a business relationship with his two Florida partners, so they agreed to help him open shop.

The 1507 E. North Avenue shop is in a building that formerly housed a dry cleaner near Open Pantry. A second shop will open in July, several miles due west at 57th and North Avenue.

Atomic has a crew of seven artists which not only offer tattoos and body piercing, but also painting, pin striping, murals, custom work for shoes, shirts, and skateboards.

“Everything’s been great. We’ve had a wide variety of customers.” Bielinski tells me during one of the few times the shop isn’t filled with the hornet like buzz of tattoo guns.

There has been one point of contention with their surroundings, however. Bielinski decided to have his crew of artists paint the exterior of the building with a graffiti style mural.

“(I) didn’t discuss it with the city because I figured I could apologize later,” he reasoned. This quickly led to a call from the East North Avenue Business Improvement District office, who told him it “looked too much like graffiti,” that “other businesses were complaining,” and that they could be in violation of “over signage.”

“You have to understand: We’re hyper sensitive to anything that looks like graffiti,” explained Jim Plaisted, Executive Director of the East North Avenue BID, after I asked him what “over signage” meant. “We had over $4,000 in clean up costs last year. His commercial neighbors found it unsightly.”

“They had prices and specials interspersed throughout the mural, so my interpretation was that the entire painting was a sign,” agreed Todd Weiler, spokesman for the Department of Neighborhood Services.

“The mural itself is okay, but when prices and specials are listed, the are treading in an area where they could be issued a citation or ordered to get proper sign permits.” Weiler added that no formal complaints had been filed with the department about Atomic’s mural.

Bielinski decided the best route was to “solve the problem and get it over with.” He painted the building back to its red and black motif just three days after the mural went up. “I thought I was doing something really cool, and a lot of people were pulling over and complimenting us,” he recalled, “and then I just got this really negative response.”

“I appreciate the fact that he and the property owner cooperated voluntarily,” Plaisted offered.

Bielinski hopes to do a “more controlled” artwork on the outside of the building “after things cool off.”

Until then, the Atomic crew of tatters will have to be satisfied with the canvas of the flesh.

Riverwest Currents online edition – July, 2007